BY BRIG NK BHATIA
UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team in its 11thannual report addressed to the Security Council Committee concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan has made scathing revelations on the close nexus between Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL-K, both prior to and post conclusion of the Peace Agreement between USA and Taliban on 29 February 2020.
The report reveals that the Taliban during the process of negotiations with the USA leading up to the peace agreement were in constant touch with Al-Qaeda. The agreement thus concluded called upon the Taliban to ”prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States”, thereby agreeing not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control. It would not be correct to assume that the USA was not aware of the backhand contacts between the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the process leading up to conclusion of the agreement.
As per the report Hafiz AzizuddinHaqqani and YahyaHaqqani of the Haqqani network were meeting al-Zawahiri as late as February 2020 for consultations in relation to impending peace agreement. YahyaHaqanni also known by his alias QariSaheb is brother in law of Haqqani network chief SirajuddinHaqqani and has been the key link between Haqqani network and Al Qaeda since 2009.
The report brings out that Taliban and Al-Qaeda had strengthened their position in the preceding year. Therefore to conclude that the two had severed their ties would be sheer imagination and fictitious. In fact, as the report points out the link between the two is deep-rooted and the two terrorist outfits in fact had joined hands to form a new joint unit of 2,000 armed fighters in cooperation with Al Qaeda to be funded by it. One of the interlocutors of talks between Haqqani network and Al Qaeda, Hafiz AzizuddinHaqqaniwas to be in overall command and lead the joint front in East Afghanistan which happens to be Haqqani stronghold comprising areas ofLoyaPaktiya (Khost, Logar, Paktika and Paktiya). Al-Qaida was also planning to establish new training camps in eastern Afghanistan.
It has been long established that that Taliban and Al Qaeda have had a close relationship. It would have been naïve on part of the USA to expect snapping up of this relationship irrespective of the written commitments that the Taliban made to the USA in their interactions and in the written agreement concluded for bringing peace to Afghanistan.
This brings to the conclusion that the Haqqani network for the last couple of years seems to have been driving Taliban strategy in Afghanistan with a tight grip and clout over Taliban hierarchy and operations.
A report authored by Dr Antonio Giustozzi on Taliban’s organization and structure in 2017 reveals the Taliban to be a “fragmented” group since 2007 when Haqqani network led MiranShah Shura abandoned Taliban only to rejoin it in 2015. Similarly, other factions broke away rendering the outfit weak. Detention of Mullah Baradar in 2010 by Pakistan further led to the Taliban’s weakening. The death of Mullah Omar led to the passing of Taliban mantle onto Mullah Mansour who had been against talks with the US and anathema to Pakistan, resulting in his moving to Iran.
The killing of Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in a US drone attack inside Pakistan when he was reportedly proceeding to Quetta from Iran pointed to Pakistan’s complacency in his killing.
The power struggle within the Taliban for leadership ensued leading to the nomination of HaibatullahAkhund as Emir after a series of talks and prodding by Iran and Russia. His nomination was resisted by SirajuddinHaqqani andObeidullahIshaqzai, nephew of slain Mullah Mansour.
HaibatullahAkhundalthough central to the organisation continues to face challenges within the Taliban with respect to the approach to negotiations with the Afghan government. While he supports negotiations the same are opposed by SirajjuddinHaqqani andObeidullahIshaqzai. This approach is now officially reflected in the Taliban’s approach to peace wherein the Taliban refuses to recognise or negotiate with the Afghan government led by President Ghani.
Another point of divergence amongst Taliban leadership is Haqqani and Ishaqzai favouring coexistence and an alliance with the Islamic State and other global jihad groups such as Al Qaeda. This has been amply established by the UN report referred to above.
Of the three power centres of Taliban, neither HaibatullahAkhund nor ObeitullahIshaqzai are military strategists of the calibre of SirajuddinHaqqani. This leaves SirajuddinHaqqani to lead central Taliban military strategy and campaigns.
Haqqani network is the only centralised and unified group amongst all Taliban factions. Prodigies’ of now-deceased JallaludinHaqqani, they comprise the Miran Shah Shura under SirajuddinHaqqani, son of Jallaluddin who is also the first deputy to Emir of Taliban. Haqqani network draws its strength from the Haqqani clan unified under SirajuddinHaqqani. It is based in Miran Shah, North Waziristan.
As is widely known Haqqani network has been referred to as “veritable arm“of Pakistan’s InterServices Intelligence (ISI) since their long relationship has been well established. ISI since formative years of the establishment of the group has been mentoring and directing its activities. This should be a reason of concern for the global community in relation to peace overtones underway in Afghanistan.
The disclosure in UN report on the presence of up to 6500 Pakistani’s including 800 and 200 cadres of Lashkar e Tayyiba and Jaesh e Mohammad respectively is also worrisome. The presence of such a large Pakistani cadre of trained terrorists could not have been without the explicit support and directions of ISI. These cadres due to limitations of local leadership and guidance would for sure be operating under the Haqqani network.
Similarly, the report points out that ISIS-K “lacked the capability to launch complex attacks in Kabul on its own”. It has been taking responsibility for operations that had, in all likelihood, been carried out by the Haqqani Network”.
This places Haqanni network as the lead protagonist for undertaking military operations against the Afghan government forces, Shia minorities and Indian interests at the behest of ISI to protect Pakistan’s opaque strategic interests.
Pakistan has been supporting terrorist groups in the past and current revelations in the UN report on the role of Haqqani network in steering Taliban agenda should come as no surprise.
This should also serve as a warning, particularly to the US that has once again relied on Pakistan to deliver a flawed roadmap for peace in Afghanistan by facilitating talks with the Taliban. It would also be too simplistic to assume on part of USA to believe that Taliban or its mentors would severe its relations with Al Qaeda, forgetting Pakistan’s dubious role in sheltering none other than Osama bin Laden.
(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views are personal.)